As sponsors, we publicly identify with, exert appropriate influence on, and provide various levels of support to these ministries. In so doing, we fulfill our responsibility of stewardship for our heritage, mission, and resources.
During her early years in the congregation, Sr. John Celeste Weitzel ministered in education but later studied to be a physical therapist. When she moved from Baltimore to the Aston area in November 2015, she came with a dream—to work with our sisters at Assisi House who were not getting PT for a specific problem.
2016 marks the 35th Anniversary of the United Nations International Day of Peace. Observed each year on September 21, the International Day of Peace is a global holiday when individuals, communities, nations and governments highlight efforts to end conflict and promote peace. First established by a U.N. resolution, “Peace Day” has grown to include millions of people around the world who participate in all kinds of events, large and small.
“The people of the world have asked us to shine a light on a future of promise and opportunity. Member States have responded with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development… It is an agenda for people to end poverty in all its forms. An agenda for the planet, our common home. An agenda for shared prosperity, peace and partnership.” ~UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon
We are all equal—all of us—but this truth is not recognized…When we do not see this, society is unjust. It does not follow the rule of justice, and where there is no justice, there cannot be peace. I would like to repeat this with you: where there is no justice, there is no peace!
Peace is not something you wish for, it is something you make, something you are,
something you do, and something you give away.
Establishing lasting peace is the work of education; all politics can do is keep us out of war.
Peace cannot be kept by force, it can only be achieved by understanding.
Peace begins with a smile.
Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field. I’ll meet you there.
The Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia have worked to end torture for over 20 years. We opposed the School of the Americas (SOA) and worked to close it. Eventually the government did close it but reopened it as WHINSEC (Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation).
We continue to support the closure of WHINSEC and to seek the indictment of leaders responsible for the massacre of thousands of persons from Central America and the killings of the Jesuits, the four women connected with Maryknoll, and a number of priests, including Archbishop Romero. Today SOA/WHINSEC has taken its concern to the Nogales Border to protest the torture of so many refugees/immigrants. On Oct. 9-10th, 2016 there will be a rally there to call attention to the numerous immigrants who have been tortured and restrained from entering the United States.
National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT)
In order to take action on peacemaking and to end torture, the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia are supporting members of NRCAT. The mission of NRCAT is to mobilize people of faith to end torture in U.S. policy, practice, and culture.
Ensure that U.S.-sponsored torture of detainees never happens again.
End the use of torture in U.S. prisons and detention facilities, in particular the use of prolonged solitary confinement.
Promote U.S. policies that enable other countries to end their torture practices and advocate for an end of U.S. support (direct or indirect) of any country that engages in torture.
End the bigotry and hatred that promotes the practice and acceptance of torture against religiously, ethnically, and other targeted groups.
PA Network Against Torture June 2016
Much of the work of the PA Network Against Torture has focused on solitary confinement. Twice a group of faith leaders have met with Secretary Wetzel to urge him to address the issue of solitary confinement in our state prisons. He has made some significant improvements in the area of mental health and is working to reduce the number of people with mental health issues from solitary confinement. He is also in the process of giving training to all the staff on identifying and working with people with mental health.
The PA Council of Churches held a major conference on mass incarceration in the fall of 2015 reaching people from around the state to gain further information on the various aspects of our criminal justice system, to explore options for actions and to make valuable contacts.
In April of 2016 the PA Network Against Torture gathered together a group of faith leaders from across the state to begin to explore networking and action to impact our mass incarceration system at the state level. This was facilitated by the United Methodist Church General Board of Church and Society. We are now in the process of looking at the next steps for this work. It is important to have a network of faith leaders and groups who can address policy at a State level especially on issues such as solitary confinement.
The group has also presented to Governor Wolfe a letter with signatures from faith leaders to work towards the abolishment of solitary confinement in Pennsylvania.
Meanwhile a number of Healing Communities trainings are happening around the state which gives congregations and faith groups the opportunity to explore ways they can impact the system. Pittsburgh held two trainings and Harrisburg is in the process of holding a Healing Communities training for trainers. http://www.healingcommunitiesusa.com/
Scilla Wahrhaftig, PA Organizer for National Religious Campaign Against Torture
Ending Solitary Confinement
Recognizing that prolonged solitary confinement can cause serious harm to prisoners, it has long been considered a form of torture. As a persons of faith, the Sisters of St. Francis oppose the use of prolonged solitary confinement.
Experts estimate that tens of thousands of prisoners in the U.S. criminal justice system are currently being held in solitary confinement. The vast majority of these inmates are detained in state prison facilities. Prisoners held in solitary confinement are often detained in a cell by themselves for 23 hours a day. Some prisoners are kept in these conditions for months, years, or even decades. Medical experts have stated that prisoners held in isolation for extended periods experience symptoms akin to delirium and the impact on mentally ill prisoners is especially damaging. Alarmingly these prisoners are sometimes released from solitary confinement units directly to their communities when they complete their prison sentence.
We need to invest in humane alternatives that address the mental health needs of prisoners in a way that effectively contributes both to their rehabilitation and to their successful transition back into society. Because holding prisoners in solitary confinement units is significantly more expensive than keeping them in the general prison population, instituting humane alternatives makes sense both financially and morally.
We must end the use of prolonged solitary confinement in all 50 states and the federal prison system. It is costly, inhumane, and ineffective. It harms prisoners and our communities. The Sisters of St. Francis call upon state legislators and departments of corrections to begin now to take steps to end prolonged solitary confinement.
Hebrews 13:3 states “Remember those in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured.”